Ancient carvings discovered at iconic Iraqi monument

Published October 20, 2022
An Iraqi worker excavates a rock-carving relief recently found at Mashki Gate, one of the gates to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. The gate lies on the outskirts of what is today the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.—AFP
An Iraqi worker excavates a rock-carving relief recently found at Mashki Gate, one of the gates to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. The gate lies on the outskirts of what is today the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.—AFP

MOSUL: When fighters of the militant Islamic State group bulldozed the ancient monumental Mashki gate in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2016, it was part of the extremists’ systematic destruction of cultural heritage.

Now, US and Iraqi archaeologists working to reconstruct the site have unearthed extraordinary 2,700-year-old rock carvings among the ruins.

They include eight finely made marble bas-relief carvings depicting war scenes from the rule of the Assyrian kings in the ancient city of Nineveh, a local Iraqi official said on Wednesday.

Discovered last week, the detailed carvings show a soldier drawing back a bow in preparation to fire an arrow, as well as finely chiselled vine leaves and palms.

The grey stone carvings date to the rule of King Sennacherib, in power from 705-681 BC, according to a statement from the Iraqi Council of Antiquities and Heritage.

Sennacherib was responsible for expanding Nineveh as the Assyrians’ imperial capital and largest city — siting on a major crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Iranian plateau — including constructing a magnificent palace.

Fadel Mohammed Khodr, head of the Iraqi archaeological team working to restore the site, said the carvings were likely taken from Sennacherib’s palace and used as construction material for the gate.

“We believe that these carvings were moved from the palace of Sennacherib and reused by the grandson of the king, to renovate the gate of Mashki and to enlarge the guard room”, Khodr said.

When they were used in the gate, the area of the carvings poking out above ground was erased. “Only the part buried underground has retained its carvings,” Khodr added.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2022

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